Today's D Brief: Strikes coming, US says; EU OKs Ukraine aid; CIWS downs Houthi missile; Recruiting news; And a bit more.

The U.S. will soon conduct counterstrikes on militia targets inside Iraq and Syria in response to the drone attack in Jordan that killed three Americans and wounded at least 41 others on Sunday, U.S. officials told CBS News on Thursday. The strikes are expected to take place “over a number of days” and will target “Iranian personnel and facilities,” CBS reports. 

White House’s John Kirby told reporters Wednesday, “We believe the attack in Jordan was planned, resourced and facilitated by an umbrella group called the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which contains multiple groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah.” 

“This a dangerous moment in the Middle East,” but the U.S. is determined not to widen conflict across the region while Israel continues its war with Hamas in Gaza, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday at the Pentagon. It was Austin’s first press briefing since being secretly hospitalized twice in late December and early January. 

By the way: Iranian officials have largely fled Syria “and will rely more on allied Shi'ite militia to preserve their sway there” as they recover from recent Israeli strikes and await future U.S. strikes, Reuters reported Thursday. 

When asked if the U.S. is doing too much to warn about its Jordan response, Austin demurred and insisted the Defense Department maintains the ability to strike back “a number of times, depending on what the situation is.” 

New: The U.S. military attacked a “ground control station” with 10 “Houthi one-way [drones]” inside Yemen shortly after midnight local time, the U.S. military’s Tampa-based Central Command said Thursday in the latest “self-defense strike” linked to the Iran-backed group ruling from the Yemeni capital city of Sana’a. 

An “explosive sea drone” was also destroyed in the Red Sea overnight, according to CBS, though the outlet had no further details. 

The U.S. Navy’s USS Carney also shot down an anti-ship ballistic missile fired from Houthi-controlled Yemen and toward the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday. Just over half an hour later, the same Navy vessel shot down three “Iranian [drones] in its vicinity,” CENTCOM officials said afterward. 

Earlier in the afternoon, unspecified U.S. forces shot down a Houthi missile intended for aircraft and drones. “U.S. forces identified the missile in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined that it presented an imminent threat to U.S. aircraft,” CENTCOM said.

A cruise missile launched from Yemen on Tuesday came within one mile of the USS Gravely, whose crew shot it down with the ship’s Phalanx Close-In Weapons Systems, which is essentially an automatic machine gun and “one of the final defensive lines the ship has to shoot down an incoming missile,” CNN reported Wednesday. 

“If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time that a [U.S. Navy] warship has ever had to use its last-ditch Phalanx close-in weapon system to defend itself from an inbound anti-ship cruise missile,” said former U.S. Navy submariner Tom Shugart of the Center for a New American Security. 

A second opinion: The U.S. Navy “can’t afford to sit here and play catch indefinitely,” Tom Karako of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told CNN. 

Developing: The European Union says its Red Sea naval mission will be launched in about two weeks, Reuters reported Wednesday from Brussels. “I hope that on the 17th of this month the mission can be launched,” EU Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters. 

Update: The Pentagon has listed 15 nations participating in its Red Sea shipping mission Operation Prosperity Guardian, but officials say “more than 20 nations” have committed to the operation. Why don’t we know all of the participants? “It is longstanding DoD policy that we respect each sovereign nation’s right to characterize their participation as they see fit and not get ahead of any national announcements,” Air Force Lt. Col. Bryon McGarry said in a statement Wednesday. “That being said,” he continued, “the following nations have publicly acknowledged their participation in Prosperity Guardian: Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Kenya, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, Singapore, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, and the United States.”

“This is about freedom of navigation,” SecDef Austin said Thursday. “There are others in the world who are watching this to see how serious we are about this. And we are serious…This is costing companies and countries significant amounts of money as they are having to redirect commercial traffic around” southern Africa, he said. 

In video: Norah O’Donnell of CBS News this week visited the USS Eisenhower and USS Mason, the aircraft carrier and destroyer defending ships in the Red Sea. “Bottom line,” she said, “despite the Biden administration’s efforts to calm tensions, things are escalating.” View her nearly six-minute dispatch, here

Also: The U.S. sanctioned four people from Lebanon and Turkey on Wednesday for their role facilitating payments to Iranian and Hezbollah officials, the Treasury Department announced Wednesday. Details here.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1942, state-owned U.S. news network Voice of America began broadcasting for the first time.

New: The European Union agreed to a new €50 billion aid package to Ukraine, the Associated Press reported Thursday from Brussels. “The financial package was part of a review of the EU’s continuing seven-year budget, which requires unanimous approval,” AP writes. 

Bloc-wide approval was in limbo as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban refused to support the plan; however, he dropped his opposition this week after he said he “received a guarantee that Hungary’s money would not be transferred to Ukraine.” 

On the other hand, the EU said Wednesday that it’s fallen well short of its ammunition promises for Ukraine. The bloc had promised to deliver a million artillery rounds by March; but now only 524,000 shells are expected by that date, Josep Borrell said. Agence France-Presse has more. 

Germany investigating a former spy chief for right-wing extremism. Hans-Georg Maassen has been designated an “observation case” by Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV)—the domestic intelligence agency Maassen once led, the Financial Times reports.

China’s new defense minister chats with Russian counterpart. Chinese officials say Dong Jun held a video call with Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday, in his first public engagement since being appointed last month. “Former Navy chief Dong's appointment came after his predecessor, Li Shangfu, disappeared from public view in August, throwing China's military diplomacy in doubt,” Reuters writes. “Dong told Shoigu that the Chinese and Russian militaries will ‘promote bilateral military relations to reach an even higher level, in order to play an even bigger role in upholding global security and stability’.” More, here.

A new wrinkle in China’s censorship? “Several prominent commentaries by economists and journalists in China have vanished from the internet in recent weeks, raising concerns that Beijing is stepping up its censorship efforts as it tries to put a positive spin on a struggling economy,” the WSJ reports.

F-16 crashes near Kunsan Air Base in South Korea. The pilot, who is assigned to the U.S. Air Force’s 8th Fighter Wing, experienced an in-flight emergency over the West Sea and ejected about 8:40 a.m. local time. “The pilot ejected safely and was recovered at around 9:30 a.m. He is conscious and was transported to a medical facility for assessment,” the Air Force said in a statement.

Pentagon may take over Starship rocket for some missions. DOD officials have asked SpaceX about taking over its still-under-development super-heavy-lift rocket “for sensitive and potentially dangerous missions as a government-owned, government-operated asset instead of contracting the company to launch payloads,” Aviation Week reported, citing a SpaceX advisor who spoke at the the Space Mobility Conference earlier this week.

Army prep course has graduated 15,000 potential soldiers. In August 2022, the Army launched the Future Soldier Preparatory Course at Fort Jackson, S.C., to help would-be recruits raise their physical and academic scores enough to meet enlistment standards. 

Within a year, 10,260 soldiers—some 95% of participants—had graduated from the course and begun basic training, the first step in an Army career, reported

Now a total of 14,700 applicants have graduated, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Weimer told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. D1’s Sam Skove has more, here.

Meanwhile, the Navy is lowering requirements again. “The U.S. Navy is starting to enlist individuals who didn’t graduate from high school or get a GED, marking the second time in about a year that the service has opened the door to lower-performing recruits as it struggles to meet enlistment goals,” Stripes reports.

A Space Force guardian will head to space in August. Space Force Col. Nick Hague will head to the International Space Station on NASA’s Space X Crew-9 mission. Once the crew arrives, Hague will transition to the role of flight engineer where he “will conduct a wide-ranging set of operations and research activities for the duration of their more than six-month mission,” according to the Space Force.

Note: Hague will be the first guardian launched into orbit, but not the first one in space. “That honor belongs to Col. Mike Hopkins, who was orbiting the Earth aboard the International Space Station in 2020 when he transferred from the Air Force to the Space Force,” writes D1’s Audrey Decker.

Lastly, “Dr. Strangelove” was released 60 years ago this week. Read a chronology of how the film came to be (from All the Right Movies), and an examination of what it got right (from Eric Schlosser).